Sunday 6 February 2011

Reflections on the Revolution in Egypt

The Egyptians are living in interesting times in the fashion of the Chinese curse. I’ve offered no comment so far, waiting for the situation to become clearer, though watching the news broadcasts from Cairo and Alexandria last week some words of Edmund Burke’s came to mind. Appropriately enough they are from his Reflections on the Revolution in France, the seminal text of modern conservatism;

The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations.

What is it, I wonder, that will please the mobs, beyond the departure of President Mubarak? What is to come after Ozymandius has left nothing but footsteps in sand and time? If one tried to find answers here, if one tried to penetrate beneath the surface of transient events, one is best to ignore the reports of the BBC, unbelievably banal in their shallowness and lack of understanding. Jeremy Bowen, their Middle East editor, was heard to say of the Muslim Brotherhood, the fundamental face of Egypt, that they are a “fairly moderate force here…they don’t want to rock the boat too much.” No, let the boat keep rocking; they will be there to steady it afterwards.

I cannot myself say what the outcome will be, though not a stable western-style democracy, that much I will hazard. The Islamists in the Brotherhood may not be as strong as they were in Iran, but they are still a potent and organised force, in much the same manner that the Bolsheviks were a potent and organised force in Russia before their putsch in November, 1917. As far as these people being a ‘fairly moderate force’ I would refer you to On Jihad, written by Hasan al-Banna, the movement’s founder, where he writes that the Koran and the Sunnah “summon people…to jihad, to warfare, to the armed forces and all forms of land and sea fighting.”

Please do not misunderstand me. Far from being an advocate of Mubarak it seems obvious that his dictatorship has been an unpleasant experience for a great many of the people of Egypt, though I feel sure not quite as unpleasant as the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein was for the people of Iraq. Just imagine what would have happened in his day if mobs had taken to the streets of Baghdad. Yes, I’m sure that Mubarak could be unpleasant, but at least he kept the country’s home grown fascist movement in check, the Brothers of the Brotherhood. More than that: in the wider politics of the region he has long been a force for moderation and stability.

Revolutions are all very well when they produce the results one approves of, but they don’t always do that, do they? If you are reading the book Egypt please don’t make the mistake of reading Eastern Europe 1989; read Iran 1979. Here I find myself in complete agreement with Andrew Roberts, the conservative British historian, who said with regard to the situation in Egypt that we should abhor policy created by mobs and assume that all revolutionary change will ultimately be for the worse.

What I find most astonishing is the attitude of Barack Obama, the weakest, most irresponsible President in American history. Here is a man who is calling for the departure of one of America’s closest allies; here is a man who appears to be urging on the Cairo mobs, though with no clear idea of what the outcome is likely to be for the people of Egypt as a whole. Yes, he speaks now just as he kept silent in 2009 when Iranian students took to the streets following the fraudulent presidential election in that country. It’s quite legitimate to wonder what exactly is going on here, just exactly how this wretchedly incapable man is advancing the cause of democracy and freedom, or even the interests of the United States. No matter who wins he loses, an opportunist ally, a false friend.

What do the Egyptians want themselves? For some time now polls have shown that they want democracy…but they also want sharia law, a glaring contradiction. The source of law can be God or it can be the people; it can’t be both. Will another Nasser emerge – could the country take more of the absolute misery that he inflicted on it? – or someone altogether more sinister, more brotherly?

Is there a ‘third way’ in a country that has never had a third way? I really don’t believe so, though there is the example of democracy Gaza-style, which gave us Hamas. I believe if things continue as they are, even if Mubarak goes, the chaos and anarchy will get ever worse, to the particular cost of the fragile Egyptian middle class.

And always keep ahold of nurse for fear of finding something worse. We may have cause to regret the passing of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptians most of all.


  1. To bring back the Pharaoh system would not be such a bad idea,but With Islam so entenched in the present culture and inseprable from politics , my money is on the Muslim Brotherhood.

  2. Some would argue that the Pharaohs never really went away. Pharaoh - unnamed - is the great villain in the Koran. Anwar Sadat's assassin said afterwards that he had killed Pharaoh.

  3. Considering how Mubarak came to power, and all that has happened in the mid-East in the past 30 years, I don't think he has done such a bad job. The regime was certainly authoritarian, but name an Islamic state that isn't?

    There is only one way for an authoritarian regime to transition safely to real representative government: that is the gradual transfer of most responsibility from the leader to the elected parliament. The more demagogic and divisive those representative bodies are, the riskier the transition. Volatile theocratic and extremist groups in Islamic politics make the task much harder in those states, just as tribal issues plague sub-Saharan African politics.

    As I fear we may soon discover in our own nations, it is easier to impose authoritarianism than to remove it, but the alternatives are all worse in the long-run.

  4. Well, then a grand Ayatollah should suit them better, just so they don't blow up the pyramids.

  5. Calvin, very well put, as always.

  6. Anthony, the Muslim majority is Sunni, so no grand Ayatollah, thank you very much. :-)

  7. I dunno much about the scenario or rather how diplomatically should I comment on this, but I like the essence of current affairs and the thought of a change behind it...I also like Calvin's opinion on this post and its subject..nice blog, will keep coming back..
    hope you would cross my blog too..keep blogging!

  8. All depends who will come to govern, all the "revolution" can be for nothing, can be an opportunity for extremist take the power and a worse scenario, though a dictatorship like Mubarak always are bad for a nation, liberty must be always the right choice, the normal election is a democracy, it is the best choice, Egypt must make an election, try to become democratic, I think Israel lost a friend, a new govern in the same way is a illusion for them. Finally we are Zoon politikon, politic is important. Mario

  9. Ana, you ask - what do the Egyptians want themselves?

    Well, I don't think most Egyptian males are lusting for Democracy or Sharia. But I'm sure they can put up with either, provided it can deliver Pride and Hegomony.


  10. Fiducia, a very big welcome to Imp land. :-) Yes, I dipped into your place earlier today, really rather charming. I will keep coming back.

  11. Mario, politics in command, as Mao said; politics are always in command. Democracy is certainly an ideal but there places in the world, places like Egypt, that do not have the right kind of soil for this delicate plant. I wish things could be different but that's just a pious hope.

  12. CI, you've clearly been to the place!

  13. They will eventually come to some end. I will see the results on the TV world news.

  14. Nicely reasoned cogitation, as usual, Ana. The kind of governments we normally see installed in West Asia, though, are of the sort that, to quote B. Gracian, "of motes they fashion beams with which to put out the eyes."

  15. Posted on behalf of Ike Jakson

    Ike said...


    I cannot find any fault in your timely analysis and I hope that you will find my effort to your liking though I wrote it as satire to lampoon Obama who was looking for the American Arab vote, the Time Ragazine that was hoping for war and actually incited it, and all the other premature analyses by many, some probably meaning no harm.

    To me it was a time to stay out of the situation in Cairo and let Egypt decide; it is still the best option to my mind and I still stand by my Post as you will find it in

  16. CI, you were in the Israeli army!! And I was wittering on about Moshe Dyan recently. :-) I'd love to know more.

  17. Ike, as soon as I've finished here I'll pop along to your place.

  18. On a slightly digressive note, as always, regarding Pharaoh:

    Muhiyudeen ibn ‘Arabi has written that it is not evident from The Holy Quran that Pharaoh will go to Hell but it says that he led his people to it [ibn –al’Arabi, Shaykh Muhiyudeen. Fusûs al-Hikam [The Ringstones of Wisdom]. Ringstone 25]. Perhaps he may be excused because he fostered Moses (peace be upon him). Nurtured Him. Schooled him, trained him. Rather our Holy Prophet ﷺ did not receive any other source of training. Only that of Almighty God.

    (Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. 30 November 1902. Malfoozat ii [Discourses]. 551, 552).

    Shaykh ibn ‘Arabi writes asking why Allah Almighty instructed the Prophet Moses to deal gently with the Pharaoh:

    And address him both of you, with gentle words perchance that he might possibly heed or be respectful.

    (The Holy Quran. Ta Ha. 45).

    Indeed the secret behind this was that Allah Almighty knew that he will finally have the fortune to believe. In fact he goes as far as to say that his salvation is also proven from The Holy Quran. It is not written in The Holy Quran that he will enter Hell. All that is written is that: 'He will walk in front of his people on the Day of resurrection and will lead them onto the pit of Fire.’

    He will walk in front of his people on the Day of resurrection and will lead them onto the pit of Fire and what a foul watering-place to be led to and those evildoers who are led to it.

    (The Holy Quran. Hood. 99).

    (Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. 11 April 1908. Malfoozat v [Discourses]. 527).

  19. Rehan, as always your quiet wisdom, along with your knowledge of the Holy Koran, is deeply impressive.